BOGOLIUBSKIY TO BILIBIN

Today’s first example is not an icon.  It is an icon-influenced illustration of a Russian saint, done by the noted Russian illustrator and stage designer Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942).  If you know Russian fairy tales, you have likely seen the colorful Bilibin illustrations for them.  And who does not enjoy a good story about Baba Yaga the Witch?

I show you this illustration because it depicts a person often found in icons, and its inscription in Church Slavic is one you should be able to translate now without difficulty if you have read the little lessons in previous postings:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Let’s look at the inscription:

It is only slightly abbreviated:

С[ВЯ]ТЫЙ БЛАГОВЕРНЫЙ ВЕЛИКИЙ КН[Я]ЗЬ АНДРЕЙ БОГОЛЮБСКИЙ
SVYATUIY BLAGOVERNUIY VELIKIY KNYAZ” ANDREY BOGOLIUBSKIY
“HOLY GOOD-BELIEVING GREAT PRINCE ANDREY BOGOLIUBSKIY”

Blagovernuiy means literally “good-believing,” but it is understood to mean a “true, Orthodox believer.”  It was a title formerly applied to members of the Russian Imperial Family.  Velikiy Knyaz is sometimes translated as “Great Prince,” sometimes as “Grand Duke.”

Bilibin has depicted him holding the “Vladimir” icon of Mary.  The story of the Vladimir image — in brief — is that it was brought from Constantinople to Kiev in 1131.  It was placed in a convent at Vyshgorod, today a suburb of Kiyev/Kiev.  Prince Andrey Bogoliubskiy invaded and plundered Kiev in 1155.  He took the icon from the convent, and was on his way back to Suzdal with it, so the story goes, when the horses stopped, and refused to go farther.   Supposedly Andrey prayed all night and Mary appeared to him, telling him to take her icon to Vladimir, and to build a church and convent on the site of his vision.  Then the horses were allowed to move again.

Andrey did have a church and convent built on the site, and called the place Bogoliubovo — meaning loosely “Loved by God” — and from that is derived his name, Bogoliubskiy.

There is something else to note in this Bilibin illustration — the white church in the background at left.  It depicts a real church.  In Russian it is called the  Церковь Покрова на Нерли — Tserkov Pokrova na Nerli — literally, the “Church of the Protection on the Nerl” (the Nerl is a river).   The Pokrov (which means literally “veil” and figuratively “protection”), you may recall, is an old icon type discussed in a previous posting.  In English that church is often referred to as the “Church of the Intercession,” which blurs its real meaning somewhat.  Why is it shown here with Andrey Bogoliubskiy?  Because he commissioned the building of the white stone church in the year 1165 — tradition says in memory of his dead son Izyaslav — and it is still there today.  Andrey Bogoliubskiy also introduced the Pokrov as a church festival in his region.

Following the precedent of Constantinople, Bogoliubskiy made Mary the protectress and patron of royal authority and the State (HIS authority and HIS State, of course).  In addition to the “Vladimir” image, Andrey is also associated with the Marian icon known as the Bogoliubskaya.  You will recall that according to the traditional story, when taking the “Vladimir” image back to Suzdal, the horses stopped, Andrey prayed at great length, and Mary appeared to him.  He is said to have had the first Bogoliubskaya image painted in commemoration of that.

The Bogoliubskaya image exists in several variants.  The basic type shows Mary standing full length with an open scroll in her hand, looking to the right of the image, where Christ is seen in the clouds above.  The text on Mary’s scroll varies from example to example.  Other examples show one or more figures kneeling before Mary at right.  Generally when it is only one figure, it is Andrey Bogoliubskiy.

The most interesting variant is that known as the Bogoliubskaya Moskovskaya — the “Moscow” Bogoliubskaya type.

Here is an example of that “Moscow” type, which, though painted in the manner of the late 17th century Armory School of Moscow, is nonetheless a recent icon:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Icons of the “Moscow” Bogoliubskaya type are characterized by Mary standing at left with an opened scroll in her hand, and a group of bowing and kneeling figures at right, among them Moscow saints and other saints popular in that region.  They vary somewhat from example to example, but in general one often finds The Metropolitans of Moscow Pyotr, Alexiy, Iona and Filipp; the “Fools for Christ’s sake” Vasily/Basil, Maxim, and Alexiy, Man of God;  Venerable Paraskeva; Basil the Great; the Apostle Peter; the nun-martyr Evdokiya; the martyr Paraskeva, and Simeon the Kinsman of the Lord.

 

 

THE DIFFERENCE A FEW KOPEKS MAKE: THE “JOY OF ALL WHO SUFFER ‘WITH COINS'”

In an earlier posting, I talked about the very popular Marian icon type called in Church Slavic Vsem Skorbyashchim Radost, — the “Joy of All Who Suffer.”  You may also find it titled Всех скорбящих Радость — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost, which is the same name in Russian.  The Skorbyashchim/Skorbyashchikh part means both “those who are afflicted” and “those who sorrow,” which is why some translate the title as “Joy of/to Those Who Sorrow.”

Today we will look at an interesting and common subtype of that icon.  It is called Всех скорбящих Радость (с грошиками) — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost S Groshikami, meaning “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins.'”  The example below —  which appears to have been painted in oils — bears the title: ОБРАЗ СКОРБЯЩИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ OBRAZ SKORBYASHCHIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI “[THE] IMAGE OF [THE] ‘OF THE SUFFERING’ MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD” Looking at it, we can see why it is commonly called “With Coins”;  it has coins on its surface.  In most icons the coins are painted, but the maker of this example used real copper coins inserted into the panel:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a half-kopek coin from 1898: And here is another from 1909.   The С.П.Б. at the bottom indicates the coin is from the Saint Petersburg mint: Icons of this sub-type often have a brief inscription at the base stating the origin, as we see in the following example produced near the end of the Tsarist era — one of the new mass-produced, chromolithographed icons on tin, such as were offered by the firm of Jacquot and Bonacœur (in Russian Жако и Бонакер), which also produced other kinds of tin goods such as colorful boxes.  These “printed tin” icons competed with the business of icon painters and further contributed to their decline:

 The problem with these colorful old icons on metal is that when scratched or exposed to moisture, they tend to rust very easily, though they were quite attractive to the ordinary Russian buyer when new.

Here is its title inscription, in beautiful traditional lettering, but in Russian rather than Church Slavic:

vsekhsklithtitle And here is the “origin” inscription:

It says:

The true likeness of the wonderworking image of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Suffer”; it turned up after a thunderstorm that broke out the 23 of July in the year  1888 over the chapel located at St. Petersburg, in the area adjacent to the glass factory.

The traditional story relates that there were several icons in the chapel.  It was struck by lightning, and everything inside was charred, with the exception of one icon that was found where it had fallen face down on the floor.  When it was turned over, the dark surface of the image had become fresh and clear, and sticking to the surface were eleven coins from the poor box that had been shattered by the lightning strike. Now, given the religious mind of ordinary Russians at that time, this event that sounds rather ordinary to us today was seen then as remarkably miraculous.  Within a day of the event, crowds of pilgrims gathered at the chapel, and the fame of the image spread far and wide, drawing even greater masses of people.  And then followed the inevitable “miraculous” healings that are associated with such images in Eastern Orthodoxy.

As we have seen, this image is a variation on the popular “Joy of All Who Suffer” type, and it is said that the image that was eventually transformed by lightning into the “With Coins’ variant was originally found floating in the Neva River by a member of the Kurakin family; later a relative, a merchant named Matveev, donated the icon to the chapel in the village of Klochka, not far from the glassworks, by St. Petersburg. You probably noticed the two inscribed banners at Mary’s sides, which are common to this sub-type.  Loosely translated, they are:

NAGIM’ ODYEYANIE  —- “CLOTHER OF THE NAKED”

And: BOL”NUIM’ ISTSYELENIE — “HEALER OF THE ILL”

These inscriptions illustrate what is happening in the icon:  at left an angel holds out clothing to the naked, and at right another angel stands behind the ill who have come to Mary for healing.

It is important to know the date of appearance of the so-called “wonderworking” Marian icons, because we know that an icon cannot be earlier than the time of its appearance.  So if you happen to be offered an icon of the “Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins'” as an 18th-century icon, you will know that dating is impossible, given that the image did not exist prior to 1888.  The same rule of thumb applies to saints, whose icons are not likely to be found before the date of “glorification” (the Russian equivalent of canonization) of the saint depicted. The “With Coins” sub-type of the “Joy of All Who Suffer” is also often referred to as Всех скорбящих Радость близ Стеклянного завода — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost” Bliz Steklyannogo Zavoda —  “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘Near The Glass Factory.'”

THE NURSING GODDESS: FROM ISIS TO MARY

I mentioned in an earlier posting (“Protection Images East and West”) that the earliest written prayer to Mary was found in Egypt — Rylands Papyrus #470. It is generally known by its first words in Latin translation, Sub Tuum Praesidium — “Under Your Protection.” Though it is fragmentary, the missing parts may be supplied to read:

Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν………..”Under your compassion
καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε………………We flee for refuge, God-birther
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας……………………….Our petitions
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει…………….Do not disregard in affliction
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς….But rescue us from danger
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη………Only Pure, only Blessed.”

We can paraphrase it as:

We flee under your compassion for refuge, Birthgiver of God; do not despise our prayers when troubles surround us, but deliver us from danger, only pure one, only blessed one.

In this prayer, Mary is not approached as an intercessor or intermediary, but rather directly for her powers of deliverance.

I wrote in that earlier posting that It is not surprising we find this earliest-known prayer to Mary in Egypt. Egypt was the land of the goddess Isis — the mother of the god Horus, and one of her titles was Mut Netjer,” “Mother of [the] God,” which we may liken to Theotokos — “Birthgiver of God” in Greek.  The worship of Isis spread in the Roman Empire, with processions, temples, paintings, and images such as this one, from the 2nd century c.e.:

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

As I have said before, as Christianity spread in the Greco-Roman world (which included Egypt at that time) under Roman imperial patronage, the worship of the old gods was first discouraged, then persecuted; and as that happened, the places and functions of the old gods were gradually taken over by Christian saints, the most prominent of which was Mary, who took on the role of the new Mother Goddess.

While the veneration of Isis was fading in the Empire, the veneration of Mary was growing.  As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The use of Theotokos as a title of Mary was officially authorized at the Council of Ephesus in 431 c.e., after a controversy over whether Mary should be called “Birthgiver of Christ” or “Birthgiver of God.” The latter won out.

At the far southern edge of Egypt lay the Temple of Isis at Philae.  In spite of the 392 edict of Emperor Theodosius closing all temples in Egypt, the Isis temple and the other temples at Philae remained open until they were finally officially closed only in the reign of the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian, in 535 – 537 c.e.  That is considered the symbolic end of the old Egyptian religion.

Temple at Philae; mid 19th century

Temple at Philae; mid 19th century

But in life, such boundaries are rarely so distinct.

Images of Isis as Mother of Horus frequently depicted her nursing her divine child, as in this Egyptian example:

(Walters Art Museum)

(Walters Art Museum)

It is not a great step from that three-dimensional image to this wall painting of Mary nursing the child Jesus, found in the Coptic Monastery of Apa Jeremiah (Deir Apa Jeremiah) at Saqqara, Egypt, generally dated 6th – 7th century c.e.:

And from that, it is but another short step to icons of the type known in Greek as the Galaktotrouphousa and in Russia as Mlekopitatelnitsa.  Here is a Russian example.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The smaller images of St. Nicholas and John the Forerunner at lower left and right are not a part of the type.

Let’s look at the title inscription:

mlekipinsc

It reads:  МЛЕКОПИТА          ТЕЛНИЦА ПРе[святая] Б[огоро]д[и]ца

Joining the two sides, we get in transliteration:
MLEKOPITATELNITSA PRESVYATAYA BOGORODITSA
“[THE] MILK-FEEDING MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

As is typical in traditional Russian iconography, conscious effort is made to remove the image from reality.  That is why Mary’s breast is so oddly depicted and placed near her shoulder — an attempt to avoid any trace of sensuality:

mlekopdet1_1

The Russian Mlekopitatelnitsa type is said by tradition to be based on the Galaktotrophousa (“Milk-nursing”) icon once kept at the Monastery of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, not far from Jerusalem. The hagiographic tradition relates that St. Sabbas, near death, said prophetically that the icon would be given into the hands of a relative of the Serbian Royal Family who would also bear the name “Sava.” (Sabbas).  St. Sabbas died in 532, during the reign of Justinian.  In the 13th century, the first Archbishop of Serbia, named Sava (Sabbas) (1174-1236), visited the monastery, and was given the icon (together, supposedly, with the “Three-handed” icon of Mary).  On his way back, the Archbishop came to Mount Athos, where he eventually had the Khilandar Monastery restored as a Serbian monastery, and gave to it the “Milk-nursing” icon from Palestine.

MORE PRACTICE IN READING VYAZ’ TITLES

Here is a 19th-century Russian icon of a saint.  The long text written on the both sides is his hagiographic “life,” his “vita,” to use the Latin term:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Who is he?  The title inscription at the top of the image tells us.  Let’s take a look at it.  Here is the left side:

СТЫИ  СЩЕн  МУн ЕВъСЕ
(the small letters are those written above and in one case within the others).

Here is the continuation on the right side:

ВIИ  ЕПсКоПЪ  САМОс

So the whole inscription — in abbreviated form — is:

 

СТЫИ СЩЕн МУн ЕВъСЕВIИ ЕПсКоПЪ САМОс

Let’s provide the missing letters to see it in non-abbreviated form:

С[вя]ТЫИ С[вя]ЩЕн[но] М[у]Ч[е]н[ник] ЕВъСЕВIИ ЕПисКоПЪ САМОс[атский]

So it gives us the title in its usual spelling:

Святый Священномученик Евсевий, епископ Самосатский 

If you have been paying close attention to previous “lessons” here in reading Church Slavic, you should only have trouble with a couple of those words.  Don’t worry about the extra letter ъ in ЕВъСЕВIИ as written on the icon.  Such spelling variations are not uncommon.

СвятыйSvyatuiy means “Holy.”  It is the word used for a male saint.

СвященномученикSvyashchennomuchenik means “Priest-martyr,” or to use its partially Greek form, “Hieromartyr.”  You will recall that мученикmuchenik — by itself means “martyr” when used of a male.

Евсевий, — Evseviy — is the saint’s name.  It will look a bit strange until we recall that when Greek names are put into their Russian/Church Slavic forms, “eu” in Greek commonly becomes “ev” in Russian; and Greek “b” becomes “v” in Russian.  And the “-ios” ending common for many Greek names becomes the ending -ий — iy— in Russian/Church Slavic.  So keeping all that in mind (it is not as difficult as it sounds at first) — we can put the name back into its transliterated Greek form like this:

Евсевий — Evseviy = Eusebios 

And if we want to put it into its Latin form, we need only recall that the Greek name ending –ios becomes –ius in Latin.  And that gives us the usual form of this saint’s name as commonly found in English, because English often uses the Latin forms of Greek names that end in -ios.  In this case it is Eusebius.

So this is a saint named Eusebius.

The next part of the title tells us he is an

епископ — episkop.  That means “bishop.”

And the final word tells us what he was bishop of or where he was from:

СамосатскийSamosatskiy — means he was of Samosata.  Remember that the -skiy ending on a Church Slavic place name means “of” that place.  So now we have the full title and name of the saint:

Святый Священномученик Евсевий, Епископ Самосатский Svyatuiy Svyashchennomuchenik Evseviy, Episkop Samosatskiy.

And that means:

[The] Holy Priest-martyr Eusebius, Bishop [of] Samosata.

You may be asking yourself (if you are not forgetting the whole thing and turning off your computer by now) WHY this saint is dressed in the conventional garb of a Roman warrior if he was a bishop.  Because as you know, bishops are usually depicted wearing their ornate robes and an omophorion, the long stole around the neck that hangs down in front and is characteristic of bishops.  Could it be a painter’s mistake?

In this case it is not, and the reason why this bishop is dressed in Roman armor is found in the traditional story of his life.  I should remind you that these stories of saints’ lives are not history; they are pious legends that are sometimes a mixture of fiction and fact, and sometimes entirely fiction.

In any case, it is said that the bishop Eusebius took part in the First Ecumenical Council — the Council of Nicaea; and there he was a staunch defender of the so-called “Orthodox” position — that Jesus is God and equal to and of the same substance as God the Father.  He held this position against the Arians, who asserted that Jesus was not equal in status to the Father.  This council took place in 325 c.e., when Constantine was emperor.

For his opposition to the Arian position, it is said that Eusebius was removed from office and banished.  And the Emperor Constantius, who succeeded Constantine, ordered Eusebius to give up a decree authorizing the election of the non-Arian bishop Meletius as bishop of Antioch.  The Emperor threatened to have Eusebius’ right hand cut off if he did not hand it over.  The tradition says Eusebius refused, and stretched out both his hands to be cut, but the Emperor was impressed by his courage and did not carry out the threat.

When the Emperor Julian (361-363) became emperor (the Christians like to call him “the Apostate”), it is said that Christians were persecuted again, so Eusebius dressed himself in the garb of a Roman soldier as a disguise, and travelled through Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine, preaching the “Orthodox” non-Arian concept of God and creating non-Arian bishops and deacons among the Christians.

Julian was killed in battle, and was succeeded by Emperor Jovian (363-364).  Under this Emperor persecution of Christians came to an end, and the bishop Eusebius had protected — Meletius — at the urging of Eusebius, convened a council of 27 bishops at Antioch, where they confirmed the non-Arian “Orthodox” belief.

However, Jovian died, and Valentius (364-375) became Emperor, giving reign of the East to his co-emperor Valens (364-378).  Valens was an Arian.  You can see that there was an ongoing struggle back and forth in the Empire about whether it was to be Arian or “Orthodox.”  Under Valens the Arian approach was again favored, and Meletius was sent into exile to Armenia.  Eusebius, now Bishop of Samosata,  was ordered into banishment in Thrace.  He urged his tearful congregants, on leaving, to keep to the “Orthodox” belief.  The Arian Eunomios was made Bishop of Samosata in his place, but it is said the followers of Eusebius refused to accept his authority or attend his services.

Then the pendulum swung again.  The Emperor Gratian (375-383) came to power, and the Arian bishops were out and the “Orthodox” bishops were restored to their offices.  Eusebius returned to being Bishop of Samosata, and worked to put “Orthodox” clergy back into power in other regions.  In the year 388 he was in the Arian city of Dolikhina, where he intended to oust the Arian bishop and install an “Orthodox” bishop.  One Arian woman was having none of it.  She picked up a roof tile and hurled it at Eusebius’ head.  It was a mortal blow, and he died of it, after saying that the woman should not be punished.  He was buried in Samosata.

So that is the traditional story.  If nothing else, it emphasizes that Christian doctrine was often the result of much bickering, infighting, and political and power struggles, and the Roman Emperors were very important in this, supporting whichever side they happened to favor.  And eventually, as we know from history, the “Orthodox” position on the status of Jesus became the imperially-favored position, and holds its place in Eastern Orthodoxy to this day.

That story explains why Eusebius is wearing Roman armor instead of  a bishop’s robes.  But perhaps you noticed that in his hand, where a warrior saint would often hold a lance or a sword, Eusebius holds a book of the Gospels, to show that he is, like other bishops, a teacher of the Church.

One more small detail.  On the right side — at the very end of the long “life” story written on the icon — we see this in larger letters than the preceding text:

It reads (in modern font):

ПАМЯАТЬ ЕГО ИЮНА КВ ЕВСЕВИ —
PAMYAT’ EGO IIUNYA KB EVSEVI

Pamyat‘ as used here means Memory/Commemoration;
Ego means “his/of him”;
Iiunya here means “June”;
KB is a number written in letters; K is 20 and B is 2, so together they form the number 22.
Evseviya means “of Evseviy/Eusebius.”

All together, it means “The Commemoration of Eusebius is on June 22nd,” and in fact that is his annual day of commemoration in the “Old Style” Church calendar.

Above the image of Eusebius, we see a typical image of Jesus blessing him from the clouds of Heaven (remember that in these times, Heaven was believed to be in the sky above the earth).  If you look at Jesus’ blessing hand, you will see that the fingers are held in the position favored by the Old Believers, who separated from the politically-supported “State” Church in the mid-1600s.  That tells us this icon was painted by someone in the tradition of the Old Believers.  That is not surprising, because by this late date, the State Church favored icons that were much more realistic and “Western European” in appearance than this example.

 

THE “UNFADING FLOWER” IN GREEK AND RUSSIAN ICONOGRAPHY

I have previously discussed icons based on the Akathist Hymn to Mary, and today’s example — the Ρόδον τό αμάραντον — Rodon to Amaranton or “Unfading Rose” is another of those, with symbols taken primarily from the related Canon of the Akathist by Joseph the Hymnographer.

When reading these lengthy and oft-repeated liturgical praises of Mary, one cannot help thinking that even a saint would become tired of being extolled over and over again in the same extravagant words. I doubt that genuine saints are interested in hearing themselves praised in any case, being by nature humble and beyond all that.

The “Unfading Rose” type varies in detail from example to example.  The basic image is much as found in the central panel of this Greek triptych:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

In this icon Mary holds a blooming rose stalk.  Her son Jesus stands upright on an altar table, a symbol taken from the Canon of the Akathist, as are the other excerpts given first in Greek, then in English in this posting:

χαίρε έμψυχε τράπεζα, άρτον ζωής χωρήσασα,
Hail, living Table that held the bread of life

Both are regally dressed and crowned, and the child Jesus holds the scepter and orb of a king.  At right is a vase of blooming flowers, a frequent element in the type.  The saint in the left panel is John the Forerunner (shown with wings) and at right the popular saint Kharalampios.  These two are of course not part of the central image type.

Examples of the “Unfading Rose” frequently show two angels (Michael and Gabriel by tradition) at upper left and right, and this line is generally used as the top inscription:

Ρόδον τό αμάραντον, χαίρε η μόνη βλαστήσασα, τό μήλον τό εύοσμον,
Hail, from whom alone sprouted the unfading rose, the sweet‑smelling apple

Here is an old example of a more elaborate version, in which Mary and the child Jesus are placed upon a huge blooming rose.  In some examples the stalk of the huge rose rises out of the body of the Old Testament figure Jesse,  relating to also to icons of the “Jesse Tree” type:

 

(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

Here Mary holds a rosebud in her right hand, and in her left hand, that grasps the child Jesus, she also holds an ear of grain, an element taken from this line:

Στάχυν η βλαστήσασα τόν θείον, ως χώρα ανήροτος σαφώς,
From you, like untilled land, grew the divine ear of grain

The “divine ear of grain” is Jesus.

In some examples the ear of grain is misinterpreted by painters as a feather.

Above Mary’s left shoulder (barely visible in this example) is a star, and it is balanced by the sun (with a face, as is common in icons) above the left shoulder of the child.  Some examples misinterpret these as sun and moon, but they are taken from this line:

Χαίρε άστρον άδυτον, εισάγον κόσμω, τόν μέγαν Ήλιον
Hail, unsetting star that brings into the world the great Sun

The “great Sun” is Jesus, called the “Sun of Righteousness.”

At left is the usual vase of blooming flowers, and at right a kind of incense vessel:

χαίρε σκεύος, μύρον τό ακένωτον, επί σέ κενωθέν εισδεξάμενον.
Hail, vessel, the inexhaustible Myrrh, emptied out upon you

This icon uses stamped and incised decoration to ornament the image — something we find also in Russian icons of the 19th century — seen in this closer look:

 

(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

Here is another Greek triptych with the “Unfading Rose” as the central image:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikons: http://www.russianicons.net)

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikons: http://www.russianicons.net)

Let’s take a look at the side panels.  Here is that at left:

At the top are two bishop saints, as we know from their garments and the Gospels they hold.  The name inscription on the left fellow is not clear; we might guess that he is Spyridon.  That on the right is legible as Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΘΑΗΑΣΙΟΣ — HO HAGIOS ATHANASIOS — “THE HOLY ATHANASIOS”

Below him, the inscription and form clearly identify Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ — HO HAGIOS GEORGIOS — “THE HOLY GEORGIOS [George]”

On the right panel, we see two more bishop saints:

That at left is Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΗΙΚΟΛΑΟΣ — HO HAGIOS NIKOLAOS — “THE HOLY NICHOLAS”; that at right is Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΧΑΡΑΛΑΜΠΙΟΣ  HO HAGIOS KHARALAMPIOS —  “THE HOLY KHARALAMPIOS.”  And Below them is  Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΣ — HO HAGIOS DEMETRIOS — “THE HOLY DEMETRIOS [Demetrius]”

It is worth knowing that the “Unfading Rose” type, when adopted from Greek into pre-modern Russian iconography, is found under two titles.  The first is Неувядаемый Цвет — Neuvyadaemuiy Tsvet — the “Unfading Flower.”  In this form Mary often holds a richly-blooming stalk of flowers, or blooming flowered scepter.  The child Jesus sometimes stands beside her as in the Greek type, but in other examples he is held sitting on her left or right arm.

The second Russian variant is titled Благоуханный Цвет — Blagoukhannuiy Tsvet — the “Sweet-smelling Flower.”  In this variant Mary often holds a blooming stalk of flowers, but the child Jesus is generally seated on her arm rather than standing.  There is of course some confusion between these two titles and their depictions.  Even the old Greek title is sometimes used in translation in modern Russian iconography for close copies of the Greek type, as Неувядаемая Роза — Neuvyadaemaya Roza — the “Unfading Rose.”

In some examples of the Greek type one finds additional symbols from the Akathist or Canon of the Akathist, such as the ladder, the mountain, the staff, etc. etc.

 

SEEKER OF THE LOST

Today’s icon is another of those Marian images often found in Russian icons of the 19th century.  It is called Взыскание Погибших — Vzuiskanie Pogibshikh — the “Seeker of the Lost.”

Its origin story says that in the middle of the 18th century, there was a pious peasant in Kaluga Province, named Feodot Alekseevich Obukhov,  He donated utensils and icons to his poor parish church, which was in the village of Bor.  One day he was out in the rural areas between villages in his sleigh when he was caught in a freezing blizzard.  He found himself on the edge of an impassable ravine, with his horses exhausted.  He prayed to Mary, telling her that if she would rescue him, he would have a copy of her icon made and placed in the village church.  Then he did what people in such circumstances are always told not to do — he lay down in his sleigh and fell asleep.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

In a neighboring village, another peasant was by his window when he heard a voice saying “Take.”  He went outside and found Obukhov there, asleep and half-frozen in his sleigh.  He brought him inside and warmed him up.  So Obukhov was saved, and to keep his vow, he had a copy made of the icon that was in the Volkhov church in Orlov Province, said to have been painted in 1707.

There is more than one “Seeker of the Lost” icon type, variable in form, and they are usually divided according to the place where each was celebrated:  there is the Belevskaya, the Borskaya, the Volzhskaya, and the Zvonarskaya, and there is of course some confusion among them.  Nonetheless, the image most commonly found under that title in icons of the 19th century is much like the example in the photo on this page.

On looking at it, with the rounded window in the left background and a tree in the distance, one cannot help feeling it was likely based on some Western European prototype.

The border saints are at left the Guardian Angel and Ekaterina (Catherine); and at right Login Sotnik — that is, the Centurion Longinus, and a female saint whose inscription is too faint to read in the photo.

THE “PASSION” TYPE IN EAST AND WEST

This is the Marian icon known as the Arakiotissa.  It is a fresco painted in the 1100s  in the Church of the Panagia tou Arakos at Lagoudera, on the island of Cyprus.   Whenever you see that –issa ending on the title of a Marian icon, you know the title is Greek.

We need not deal with the long inscription at the lower sides of the image, but I do want to point out the first words at the upper left side that identify the image:

Η ΑΡΑΚΙΟΤΙCCα
HE ARAKIOTISSA
“The Arakiotissa.”

You can see that the  final -a is written much smaller and placed above the last C (“s”)  in the inscription:

The Arakiotissa is a “Passion” Marian icon, meaning that the image is associated with the suffering and death by crucifixion of Jesus.  We see that in the objects carried by the two angels, generally identified as Michael at left and Gabriel at right.

Here is Michael.  He bears the spear and sponge on a reed from the Crucifixion:

And here is Gabriel, who bears the cross of the Crucifixion:

In the Italo-Cretan period, when icon painters on the island of Crete provided images both for Eastern Orthodox and Italian Roman Catholic buyers, a related Marian “Passion” image became popular, still with the two angels, but with the figures of Mary and the child Jesus in different positions than in the Arakiotissa.  Here is an example of that type by the famous Cretan iconographer Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492):

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

Note that the angels are not depicted below their torsos, as though coming out of nowhere.

The identifying elements of this type are the two angels with the implements of the Passion, the child Jesus turning his head sharply over his left shoulder to look at the Archangel Gabriel, and the sandal that has come loose from his right foot and hangs slightly below it:

Many writers like to say that the sandal has become loose because of the child’s abrupt jerk of fear on seeing the cross, but it is likely just a pleasant painter’s conceit.

Some painters also included the crown of thorns with the cross.

One image of this type became famous in Rome after it was brought there at the end of the 1400s.  Tradition says it was taken from Crete by an Italian merchant who stole it on the island, but then gave it to the San Matteo church in Rome.  It became known as the “Madonna di San Matteo.”  It disappeared from view when the French invaded Rome in 1812, and was gone for over forty years, but then was found in an Augustinian oratory in the 1860s.  The rediscovered image  caught the attention of Pope Pius IX, who had known it in in San Matteo as a boy.  He accorded it great importance, which led to its eventually becoming a well-known Catholic printed paper reproduction found on the walls of many Catholic homes.  It was by then known as Nostra Signora del Perpetuo Soccorso in Italian, or in English “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.”  It is more commonly known in the United States as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” The image has undergone restoration twice, first in 1866 and again in 1940, which perhaps accounts for its rather bland present appearance.

In Greek Orthodoxy, the type is generally called either Παναγία του Πάθους — Panagia tou Pathous, meaning “All-Holy One of the Passion,” or Παναγία η Αμόλυντος — Panagia he Amolyntos — “All-Holy Pure One.”  Occasionally Greek icons are found showing Mary and Jesus in the usual positions, but without the angels and Passion implements.

It is not surprising that so popular an image also entered Russian Iconography.  There the Russian version of the type is called the Strastnaya, meaning the “Passion” Mother of God.  Its origin story relates that in the 17th century a women of the village of Palitsa named Ekaterina developed mental problems after her marriage.  She was in this condition for some seven years, and became suicidal.    She prayed to Mary, promising that if healed, she would enter a convent.  She was healed, but then forgot about her vow.

Her illness returned.  She took to her bed and again prayed to Mary.  The door opened, and in came Mary, dressed in a robe ornamented with golden crosses.  She asked Ekaterina why she had not fulfilled her vow, and told her to change her ways.  But again Ekaterina did not do as she was told.  Mary appeared to her two more times, and on the third appearance (that magic number found so often in such stories) Mary punished her by twisting her head and contorting her face and drooping her body  Then Mary told her to go to Nizhniy-Novgorod, to an icon painter named Grigory, who had painted an icon of Mary.  She was to tell Grigory of Mary’s appearances to her, and she was to provide seven silver coins to decorate the icon.  Ekaterina did all this and was healed, and Mary promised that others who venerated the image would also be healed.

Grigory’s icon is then said to have worked other miracles, and in 1641 Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich had it brought to Moscow.

By the 19th century, the Strastnaya type had become widespread in Russian iconography.  Though some Strastnaya examples include the detail of the loose sandal, more often the child Jesus is depicted without sandals, as in this image:

So the “Passion” type, by whatever name, is presently well-known in Both Eastern Orthodox iconography and in Roman Catholicism.